Four weeks after election day, Democrat Kamala Harris declared victory in the race for attorney general on Tuesday, claiming a narrow but historic win that makes her the first woman and the first minority to be elected the state's top law-enforcement official.
"I stand before you today humbled to be chosen to be the next attorney general of this state," Harris said, her voice breaking with emotion as she spoke to supporters at the Millennium Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles. "I pledge and make a pledge to work hard every day to make sure the law of this state is on the side of the people of this state."
The San Francisco district attorney's win over Republican Steve Cooley cemented a Democratic sweep of every statewide post in California, a remarkable feat in a year when Democrats suffered deep losses in the rest of the nation.
Harris, 46, praised Cooley, Los Angeles County's district attorney, for running a spirited campaign. Cooley prematurely claimed victory on election night, only to concede the race Nov. 24 after weeks of ballot counting gave Harris a slim lead.
Harris continued her victory swing with a news conference and celebration in San Francisco. But she said she chose to start the day in Los Angeles to emphasize that she would stand for all Californians.
"I thought it was important that we are clear that this position of attorney general is about representing all the people of the state of California," she said.
Los Angeles County was also key to Harris' victory; her 14-point win in Cooley's backyard helped lift her toward what presently stands as a 75,000-vote margin out of nearly 8.8 million votes cast. Official results are due Friday.
Many Republicans had viewed Cooley as the GOP's best hope of winning a major office in the Nov. 2 election, given his moderate reputation and name recognition in vote-rich Los Angeles County.
Cooley promised a nonpartisan approach to the office and described his opponent as a radical who opposed the death penalty.
Harris, who has pledged to follow the law in capital-punishment cases despite her personal views, cast herself as "smart on crime" and called for new approaches aimed at reducing recidivism and prison overcrowding.
On Tuesday, Harris alluded to the challenges she faced.
"I'm proud that we can stand here today, recognizing that we don't have to and one does not have to run from their convictions when they choose to run for office," she said.
Harris emphasized her priorities — reducing the state's recidivism rate, which is the nation's highest; cracking down on predatory lenders; protecting the environment; ensuring the civil rights of Californians regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation; and using innovation to attack problems such as identity theft.
Highlighting predecessors in the post — former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, former Gov. Pat Brown and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown — Harris said she was proud to follow in their footsteps. The three men also used the office of attorney general as a springboard to the governorship; Harris has raised interest among Democratic leaders as a future candidate for that office or for the U.S. Senate.
Harris also named a transition team that includes former LAPD Chief William Bratton, former U.S. Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and George Shultz, and civil-rights attorney Constance Rice.
After an 11-minute speech, Harris took a handful of questions from the media. She demurred when asked about litigation the office is involved with in the city of Bell, or the prison overpopulation case that is before the Supreme Court. In both cases, she said, she needed to study the legal papers before commenting.
Asked to reflect on the meaning of her historic win — as the first woman, African American and Indian American elected to the post — Harris smiled brightly and said, "We'll see!"